Warnings/notes : Bakura/Ryou, Malik.
Disclaimer : I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh. This ficlet is part of 'Feast of the king's shadow', meaning its title is taken from this novel by Chaz Brenchley.
written at 17th october 2003, by Misura
The boy was either very brave or very stupid. Perhaps he was both, Bakura considered with a soft snort. He had never seen the particular merit in courage. If you knew you could win, you fought. If you knew you were going to lose, you fled to fight another day. Simple logic.
Of course, with only the endless sands of the desert to run to, flight was not exactly an option that offered much hope for survival, especially for one as this boy, used to living a pampered life and not in possession of a single drop of water to fend off the scorching heat by day or a blanket to prevent his body from catching a cold during the icy nights.
From a ruthlessly practical point of view, it might be argued the boy was doing the smartest possible thing in trying for a quick death on the blades of the band of robbers that had attacked the caravan he had been traveling with. The caravan which had, to Bakura's severe annoyance, managed to escape the ambush he had lain for it thanks to the quick thinking of the leading guard-captain.
Judging by his torn clothes, the boy was some sort of servant, not worth keeping alive for a ransom or something of that kind. After all, the guards hadn't even come back for him, a definite indication of his value or lack thereof. He clutched his dagger in clumsy hands, obviously not used to holding a weapon.
Malik, his second in command, made a move towards the boy, who backed off, raising his dagger in a gesture that was probably intended to be defensive but in fact left big, vital parts of his body unprotected. Not that it mattered ; Malik was very skilled with his knife. Almost as good as Bakura, though not quite. That was why he was second, after all.
"No. He's mine." Bakura stepped forwards, gesturing for Malik to retreat. Unlike the purple-eyes blond, Bakura derived no pleasure from killing, yet there was something special about this boy, some sort of mystery he wished to unravel for himself.
"Then hurry up and finish him." Malik growled, barely hiding his disappointment at being denied his intended victim. "There's nothing to be had anymore here."
Ignoring the veiled accusation in that statement (it hadn't been -his- fault their plan hadn't worked out after all, accidents simply happened from time to time), Bakura drew his own knife. It was shorter than the boy's dagger, but his shorter reach was more than compensated by his greater skill and dexterity.
Ryou wondered how he always managed to land himself in situations as this one. It felt sometimes as if misfortune was following him wherever he went. Stumbling at least once every week when he entered the class-room was not comparable to falling off his mule just at the time when the caravan he had been traveling with was attacked by a band of raiders, of course, but still ...
Why him? What had he ever done to the divine powers that they had cursed him thus? Bereft of his family, never finding a real home, wandering from family to family as a victim of charity, someone people felt compelled to take in for their priest, his father's sake, yet never truly welcome.
He had been overjoyed when a messenger from Thebes had come, with a letter signed by High Priest Seto personally, declaring Ryou was invited to the capital to become a student in the Temple of Ptah so that he might in time take up his father's profession.
But now it seemed he would never reach his destination, condemned by fate to a nameless grave in the endless sands. Ryou knew that in spite of the few lessons in self-defense he had received, he would never be able to hold his own against men like this, who lived by their knife. It was said that they had raised knife-fighting to a form of art, an elaborate dance of death. That was why they were often referred to as 'sand-dancers', a term sounding much more noble than 'cut-throat' or 'robber', even if those latter terms would be much more appropriate.
The only reason he wasn't down on the ground, bleeding to death yet was probably that his white-haired opponent liked to play around a bit first, perhaps even letting Ryou believe he had a chance to win before taking it all away. His dreams, his hopes ... but also his guilt and doubts. Though Ryou definitely didn't want to die, he had to admit the prospect wasn't as unwelcome as it should have been.
Grinning as he easily dodged a lunge from his increasingly desperate opponent, Bakura stepped forwards, sending the boy sprawling to the ground by a casual kick in the stomach, his dagger dropping in the sand a short distance away, well out of reach. He could have killed the boy a number of times before now, yet he had chosen not to.
Nor would he claim the boy's life at this perfect opportunity, if he had any choice in the matter. Because for some unfathomable reason, although they were complete strangers to one another, Bakura had the uncanny feeling he and this boy were connected in some way. And if the boy died, he was certain that the riddle of that strange emotion would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Still, he would have to end this quickly, before Malik's impatience got the better of the blonde. The boy had turned to keep an eye on him, rather than try to get his (useless) weapon back. Bakura was somewhat surprised to see the lack of fear in those brown eyes. They radiated a certain fright yes, but also a calm sort of acceptance and serenity. It unsettled him, made him hesitate for a moment before kneeling down on the other's chest, pressing his blade against a pale throat.
"Surrender and promise not to make any trouble and I -may- let you live." There was no doubt to Bakura that he would, naturally, yet it might be better not to show the boy any sign of what was going on his mind. Besides, it wasn't as if Bakura understood those things himself.
"What if I don't care whether I live or die?" The reply was a bare whisper, though it sounded crystal-clear to Bakura, giving him an uneasy feeling, wondering what had caused the boy to go so bitter so young, wondering why he would care.
"Then you are an idiot and a coward," Bakura snapped, annoyed. Malik murmured something from behind him, not loud enough for him to be overheard. He could make a pretty good guess what Malik was saying though.
"What do -you- know about that?" the boy demanded, a flash of anger and hurt in the glare he sent in Bakura's direction. "You don't know anything about me."
"He doesn't have to." Bakura blinked, surprised to find Malik standing at his shoulder, gazing down on the two of them with an odd expression on his face. "None of us is interested in your past ; we leave that part of our lifes behind when we become what we are now. Sand-dancers."
Bakura allowed Malik to help him up, carefully watching the boy as he rose as well, brushing the sand off his clothes. "Malik is right. Forget about what has happened to you and think of the future alone. Will you not dance with me ... us?"
"I ... " Judging from the gasps around them, the boy wasn't the only one surprised by Bakura's offer.
"I am not like you! I'm not going to murder innocent people for a living!" the boy declared defiantly. Malik chuckled, speaking before Bakura could think of a proper reply.
"Doesn't the fact that -you- are still alive prove we're not quite as bad as you seem to think?" Malik riposted calmly. "Bakura has offered you a new chance in life, a new home. Don't you want to accept that? Don't you at least want to give it a try?"
"I ... guess I could." Bakura noted the boy didn't look very happy. Still, he had agreed, which was the important part. He was sure he'd manage to convince his new sand-dancer that robbing merchants wasn't such a bad way of life. "My name is Ryou."
"Great. Then, can we get -finally- out of here now that you've got what you wanted, Bakura?" Malik nervously glanced at their still empty and tranquil surroundings.
Bakura caught himself grinning apologetically at Ryou, before nodding and dragging the boy along to the beckoning horizon.
-ending of this snippet-